Somewhere July 27, 2017
1 Hr., 39 Mins.
ohnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), the central character of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (2010), is a movie star so detached from the high life we’d almost think he were a has-been destroyed by years of excessive living. He's burned out by everything. The things that might otherwise bring him joy, like his chain smoking, his promiscuity, or his acting, do nothing to change the look of discontent throbbing in his eyes. Maybe he’s suffering from, as Roger Ebert hypothesizes, anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure. Or maybe he’s simply suffering from ennui, bored by everything because he’s gotten over the once-
thrilling fact that he can get anything he wants by merely showing his face or uttering his name.
Coppola explored similar ideas in her unequaled masterpiece Lost in Translation (2003), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In both, we have a protagonist who’s achieved an immeasurable amount of success and should, by the standards of many, be happy. And yet they cannot stop their disillusionment with themselves. They yearn for something more, but they do not know what that “more” is.
But whereas Lost in Translation was wistful, beautifully melancholy, Somewhere is a naturalistic character study that looks and feels like a slice of life, the spotlighting of everyday tedium pronounced. Much of the film is made up of mundane actions — sunbathing, smoking, TV watching, Guitar Hero playing — which could be detailed in second-long fragments. But instead they're given minutes worth of room to stress the restlessness Marco feels so deeply.
Best of all are not one but two sequences in which twin strippers (Kristina and Karissa Shannon) set up shop in Marco’s Chateau Marmont suite. In the first, the girls mechanically perform to the Foo Fighters’ “Hero” — and Marco falls asleep midway through the act. In the second, they twirl about in porny tennis uniforms, Marco clapping unenthusiastically as they finish. In an ordinary man’s life, such performances would be titillating. But for Marco, they’re ornaments who make blank stares at drying paint slightly more interesting.
Only one thing seems to rescue Marco from his self-inflicted haze of weariness, and that’s his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). Despite his career kicking off rather recently, we learn that he was married many years ago to a blonde who now refuses to interact with him when their child is not the center of focus. Marco sees Cleo on the weekends, and we suspect she’s the only thing that keeps him living. In his moments with his daughter, Marco seems to be in good spirits.
But midway through Somewhere, he has to readjust his routine. when Cleo’s mother suffers a nervous breakdown. She drops the child off at Marco’s room at the chateau and leaves her with him indefinitely. And such is enough to cause Marco to finally feed retrospection.
But as expected in a film written and directed by Coppola, a maestro of sad-funny drama that tends to hurt a lot more than it warms the heart, the renewed relationship between Marco and Cleo does not heal everything. What we see is a shell of a man do the best he can by way of fatherhood. Which we figure to be decent. Just look at the way he tears up when Cleo skates to “Cool” by Gwen Stefani at the local ice rink. And how Cleo, in lieu of being able to get anything she wants, is a humble, normal 11-year-old. (She even has an enviable talent for cooking.)
The movie deduces nothing and arguably doesn’t even see its characters go from point A to point B as if they were undergoing a type of arc. One sometimes wonders what Somewhere is trying to do if it’s unwilling to take us to mountainous emotional highs.
But it’s discernible that all Coppola wants to do is transport us into the life of this actor, perceived by the public to be a rebel who has everything and who hates himself. She walks us through his routine and shows us just how tedious celebrity can sometimes be. Whether that’s investing to the viewer depends. Some might find her hyperrealistic approach boring. Some might find it compelling. I'm among the latter camp.
Such is because Coppola is inspired in her every cinematic choice, and because the performances of Dorff and Fanning are so soul-stirring. (To ensure they be convincing as father and daughter, Coppola had her leads get meals together before filming to have their chemistry ready by the production date).
Dorff, raggedy, dirty, and with a receding hairline, looks like your typical bad boy actor. But what we find is a touchingly sensitive soul for whom our hearts ache. He, like James Dean or River Phoenix, has the type of movie star charisma that can make a scene watching him do nothing more exciting than sit in a chair and smoke a Lucky Strike beguiling. Fanning is effective as a child wise beyond her years, and unlike other actors who have not yet hit puberty, she never overplays in front of the camera as though she were trying to impress. We see an emotionally soulful, authentic actress. That in the seven years since Somewhere’s release Fanning has become something of sensation in independent film is no surprise.
Let it into your heart and Somewhere is the kind of film you love, not because it is accessible or because it is intentionally feel-good but because it is such a universal story. Though Marco is a star and therefore cannot so easily be compared to average members of the American population, how many people are out there who are slightly uncomfortable with fatherhood but still do their best, who find success but still notice they aren’t satisfied, who do everything they can to be happy but still cannot find that place? Marco suffers from those shortcomings. But by the movie’s end does he understand that somewhere, someday, he’ll be content. Maybe not then, and maybe not even now, seven years later. But fulfillment is somewhere. A